This is from my article in this week’s Irish Examiner! Read it on their site here, or you can also download it digitally (so it looks just like it does in the newspaper!)… or just read it below.
Tuesday April 5, 2011
One Hundred And Twenty Scotties And Westies
By Gwen Orel
That’s something you didn’t see in the St. Patrick’s Day parade – but you will at the 13th annual Tartan Day Parade on April 9. The parade has always had these mascots of Scotland, but usually the number is around 50 – this year, says Camilla Hellman, Development Director of the American-Scottish Foundation, they decided to step it up. They reached out to Meetup groups and to WoofWoof magazine and “we got inundated!” she says with a laugh. So many dogs are eager to wag their tails at spectators and strut their stuff up Sixth Avenue, that there will be eight Dog Herders, graduate students from the Mountbatten programs, to help the dogs and their people move in “a straightish line up the avenue.”
The dogs, Camilla says, are registered as themselves, not as their owners. The Scottish terrier, so often featured on mugs and t-shirts, has a proud little face that “just looks like an angus!” The white Westie too has a fierce little yap. Though the parade is relatively short, some of the dogs will be in strollers to spare their short little legs. Because they often come in kilts and tams, this year for the first time there will be awards for the best dressed male and female dogs.
Zaleena Ahmed, who is not Scottish, found out about the event from the Meetup group and is coming with puppy Alexander. If on St. Patrick’s Day everybody feels a little Irish, on Tartan Day Scottishness is in the air.
The holiday itself is a relatively new one. Tartan Day began in Toronto, Canada. In New York the first parade was held in 1998. Also in 1998, the United States Senate passed a resolution making April 6th Tartan Day. The day commemorates the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, a petition from the Scots to the Pope to seek independence from England. The petition also affirms that the American Declaration of Independence was modeled on it. The Senate Resolution also celebrates the contributions Scots have made to America. Congress has passed a Resolution too.
St. Patrick’s Day is much bigger, but, says Leslie, “they have 250 years on us.” The Resolution was named after Tartan Day, so the week is known by that name here. Originally the tartan was highland dress, but today it’s a symbol of Scotland. Margaret laughs, “in a way thank goodness it’s not golf week, or Haggis week.” She points out that Sir Walter Scott’s romantic novels helped popularize the pattern.
While there isn’t a parade in Scotland – Margaret says people wouldn’t march down the street celebrating the fact that they’re Scottish -there is tremendous interest in the celebrations here. Many Scots come over just to march, and the New York parade is televised. The week is known as Scotland Week in Scotland, and the Government supports it enthusiastically. They’ve sponsored several of the events that are taking place, including the play Random Accomplice’s production of The Promise, by Douglas Maxwell, which runs at 59E59 through April 17.
Just as March is “the season” for the Irish, Tartan Week offers many events for anybody with a little Scot in them to check out – details on all of them and ticket information is at www.tartanweek.com.
A fashion show called “Dressed to Kilt,” held April 5, highlights on Country Music and its roots in Scottish music – and the work of new designers. It’s also a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project (woundedwarriorproject.org), The Paralyzed Veterans of America (pva.org), and The Erskine Hospital in Scotland (erskine.org.uk). There’s a Tartan Week boutique at 939 Madison Avenue through April 8.
“Whiskey Live 2011” takes place on Chelsea Piers on April 6. As the name suggests, it’s a festival of Scottish whiskies and bourbons, many microbrewery products you wouldn’t normallyfind in the city, and demonstrations from the larger companies too. There are “very peaty ones from West Coast, and more subtle malty flavored ones from Speyside on the East Coast,” Margaret explains. Free events include a lunchtime concert at the British Garden at Hanover Square that afternoon, which will feature the Assemble and Leap Dancers of the Scottish Board of National Dancers (who include four world, national and international championships), and a Robert Burns singing concert there the next day – which features among other performers students from Shawlands Academy, Glasgow, who are here as part of the Global Partners program.
If you want to dress up and attend a party, you could go to the Metropolitan Club on Wednesday night, which benefits the National Trust for Scotland, and features a live auction as well as a dance, or the Saint Andrew’s Society National Tartan Day Reception on Thursday. There’s an exhibit celebrating Alexander Hamilton, which runs through July at the Museum of American Finance at 48 Wall Street.
And then of course there are all the celebrations around the parade. The pre-parade Ceilidh is the night before, put on by the New York Caledonian Club (at Abigail Adams Audtiorium, 417 East 61st Street) and differs slightly from an Irish ceili. Leslie explains that dances will be taught, and there will be a caller. “It’s more like American Square Dancing,” she explains. Many of the people are learning the dances too. Naturally, there will be haggis – but other dishes as well. On the morning of the parade, the “Kirkin of the Tartan” will be held at the First Presbyterian Church (with a brunch after, and buses to take people to the Parade site), and after the parade the pipe bands will unwind at Stout, beginning at 4:30pm. Whiskey Kiss, Prydein and Raindown will all play – featuring an open bar for a flat fee.
And the day after the parade is the 10k Scotland Run – featuring many runners in kilts and tams. Isn’t that dangerous, I wonder? Don’t they not wear anything beneath their kilts? “Dangerous, to whom?” Margaret replies. While kilts are not regimental uniform now, they were for much of the twentieth century. There was a regiment that fought in Africa during the second World War in kilts. It sounds impractical, but, “we won the way,” Margaret reminds me. “They were called ‘The Ladies from Hell,'” Leslie adds.
The parade has grown exponentially from a few hundred when it first began in 1999 to an expected 2,500 marching and as many spectators this year. Spectators will be handed blue saltire flags of Scotland, and given Walker shortbread too. Pipe bands will play, and the grand marshall is Bob Winter, the Lord Provost of Scotland, who will wear the thick gold chains of office. Lord Provost is a bit like mayor – but sounds so much grander! And the Right Honorable The Earl of Caithness, PC, serves as Honorary Parade Chairman.
So – get your Scots-Irish up, and join the parade.
Make the doggies proud.
Gwen Orel runs the blog and podcast, Newyorkirisharts.blogspot.com, presenting arts news of Celtic Nations in the New York area.